Students have reacted angrily to the decision of a handful of colleges to enforce a University ban on the BBC’s iPlayer and Channel 4’s 4 On Demand services.

The programs, which allow users to watch television programmes on the internet after they have been broadcast, use ‘peer-to-peer’ technology and so are banned by Oxford University Computer Services (OUCS).

However, colleges have been inconsistent in enforcing the rules, leading to double-standards which have angered some students.

OUCS says ‘peer-to-peer’ file sharing uses up large amounts of bandwidth meaning that the internet becomes slower for other users, and that the technology could allow the illegal distribution of software, music and videos.
Several colleges have clamped down on students using the services, fearing that they might overwhelm their networks.

Paul Martin, Computer Officer at Wadham, said, “Peer-to-peer file-sharing technology, including BBC iPlayer and 4oD, are against the University’s ICT rules. Wadham, like any other college, connects through the University network and follows those rules.”

Somerville College is currently the only college with a web-filter that blocks students from accessing the iPlayer and 4oD sites. Somerville’s IT  Manager commented, “The college has a 100Mb connection to the University backbone. ‘Peer-to-peer’ applications will use as much bandwidth as they can get. We try to keep all our students updated and informed about the limitations of internet use within the network.”

Students at Somerville College have even been warned about having the programs installed on personal computers because they continue to run data transfers when not in use.

An email to undergraduates and graduates read, “It looks like a few people who have been downloading music and videos using ‘peer-to-peer’ programs over the vacation have forgotten to uninstall them on return to college […] If you do still have any of this software on your computer then you should take action such as uninstalling it right away.”

The blanket rule against ‘peer-to-peer’ programs was put in place by the University proctors over five years ago. IT Manager of Jesus College, John Ireland, warns that action may be taken against students who breach the rule, “The use of ‘peer-to-peer’ software can be detected and traced back to an individual who has accepted responsibility for the computer that the software is running on.”

“This does constitute a breach of the Proctors’ ruling and, depending on the college/department/details of the case, action could well be taken through standard disciplinary proceedings,” Ireland continued.

However, some college authorities have not enforced the University’s regulations.

One second year at Christ Church said, “It’s just really convenient to use iPlayer on such a fast internet connection and not being stopped from using it makes us feel really happy with the college. I use it at least a few times a week and don’t think twice about it.”

Another student, a Wadham historian, said, “lots of people use iPlayer at college. We’re all too busy to watch TV at set times each week so it’s nice to be able to relax and watch our favourite programmes when it suits.”

The success of BBC iPlayer has already drawn national media attention for putting severe strain on the internet and threatening to bring the national network to a crunch point.

On 9 April, it was reported that there had been a clash between Internet Service Providers and the BBC, due to the increased load that TV-on-demand sites are placing on network providers. An hour of iPlayer video downloaded at peak times would cost them on average 67 pence, and many internet providers are unwilling to absorb these costs.
 
Both the BBC iPlayer and 4oD applications use technology where users download files from one another, rather than from a central server.